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Current Estimated Potential (CEP) in Singapore Civil Service

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In respond to public perception that the civil service placed too much emphasis on paper qualifications, the Public Service Division (PSD) announced that the civil service has stopped grouping its officers according to their education levels since 1st January 2017. This is a good move because it means that our civil servants will be judged based on their work performance rather than their academic results. This article will discuss the Current Estimated Potential (CEP) in Singapore Civil Service.

According to preliminary data from Ministry of Manpower (MOM), 16,600 workers were retrenched in Singapore in 2016. This is a record high since 2009, the peak of the Great Financial Crisis. With retrenchment so prevalent nowadays, job security is certainly at the top of many Singapore employees’ mind. Long considered an iron rice bowl, a job in the civil service is highly sought after because of the perceived high pay and work-life balance.


Nonetheless, you must have the right mentality in order to join the civil service. Money is important but if that is your primary motivation, then this may not be the best place for you. After all, the civil service is non-profit driven organization and career progression hinged largely on several key factors – readiness to take on more responsibilities, vacancies, performance and CEP.

CEP is devised by Shell to assess their employees’ leadership potential. This appraisal system has since been adopted by our civil service to groom leaders. Essentially, this system determines the highest job responsibility level an officer is capable of handling in the future.

Thus, when an officer with good qualifications joined the civil service, his initial CEP might be higher than his peer joining at the same period. However, whether he can progress would depend on the factors cited in the previous paragraph. This is because the CEP system is not just merely a grade and it actually comprises of a scoring methodology.

During the parliament sitting in 2016, Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong whether the Ministry will be able to provide greater transparency on the scoring methodology used to determine a civil servant’s Current Estimated Potential (CEP). To this end, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean replied that CEP is assessed based on demonstrated “AIM” qualities, which stand for (1) Analytical and Intellectual Capacity; (2) Influence and Collaboration; and (3) Motivation for Excellence.

In his reply, DPM Teo confirmed that CEP is actually an inherent qualities of a person and has nothing to do with your job performance. So even if you hit all your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) every year, it does not mean that your CEP is excellent. It only means your job performance grade will be good and therefore your annual performance bonuses will be great. However, if an officer is considered a Hi-Po (those with high potential), he is likely to be promoted faster to become a leader in the public service.

Note that an officer’s CEP may change with assessment over time. So your fate is not sealed if you got a low CEP upon joining the civil service. If you are keen to level up your CEP, try your best to fit into the three qualities of AIM.

While the CEP framework is robust in identifying potential leaders within the civil service, the biggest gap in the system is the failure in bringing out the best of those who are more conversant in their technical expertise. Let’s face it. You cannot have all leaders in a team and no workers to do the dirty job. Because of this, thousands of engineers who are technically strong in the civil service might be overlooked for grooming by their management due to their perceived lack of leadership qualities.

Sometimes, CEP can either drive or destroy a civil servant. A young officer with high CEP could perceive himself as an elite and might not accept constructive criticisms kindly. On the other hand, an officer with low CEP might be motivated to prove his supervisor wrong. In this regard, civil servants shouldn’t be too over-zealous about CEP and become too absorbed in proving their potentials. CEP shouldn’t be viewed as a limiting factor to career progression nor an Achilles Heel.

In life, we all have different qualities and pathways. Not everyone has the potential to lead and the inherent ability to manage a team. Some people excel more in technical works but may not be good at presenting or influencing others. In spite of this, having an average CEP does not translate to a mediocre career prospects in the civil service. Through hard work and good performance, an officer with average CEP can still enjoy good incentives and merit increments.

At the end of the day, the CEP system may be elaborated but it is subjective as well. If an officer cannot work well with his boss, his CEP will also be affected. Therefore, the trick is positioning and getting oneself appraised by the right people. The CEP determines how fast and far he may be promoted, but the promotion will occur only if the officer has acquired the experience and consistently demonstrated good performance over the past few years.

If you can overcome the fact that government scholars will have a higher CEP and thus enjoy a head start, then a job in the civil service may be an attractive career path. Through hard work, it is possible to earn good salaries. Furthermore, there is job security and work life balance. These are the holy grails that many job seekers are looking for!

My final thoughts is that CEP only measures a person current abilities and extrapolates his future potential as a public service leader. But one must have the right motivation and character to join the civil service. After all, you can have a very smart person joining the civil service as Hi-Po but if his priorities are misplaced, he can bring even greater harm to our society than someone with lower potential.

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Updated: July 28, 2017 — 2:59 pm
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